General Discusses Afghan Army’s Development
By Christen N. McCluney
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, July 5, 2010 Afghanistan’s army, with help from the NATO training mission there, is working to increase its growth, develop leaders and increase retention to make a stronger force.
“What we do is generate and sustain and develop leaders for the Afghan National Army,” said Army Brig. Gen. Gary S. Patton, deputy commander for army training for NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, during a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable July 2.
The Afghan army has grown in quality and quantity, with significant progress in the past few months, Patton said. From May to June, the Afghan army grew by more than 4,000 soldiers to a current total force of 129,885 soldiers. These numbers put the effort at 6,000 soldiers above the goal for that time frame and ahead of schedule for growing the Afghan army, the general said.
Patton said the Afghan army’s deficit of 12,000 noncommissioned officers stems from the fact that infantry numbers can be increased faster than it takes to make new leaders.
“Leaders take time and take experience,” he said.
To solve this problem, the Afghan army sends 150 of the best soldiers from each infantry class to a four-week course after basic training. A progressive, 12-week direct-entry E-6 course assists with narrowing NCO gaps as well, Patton said.
Some 3,300 Afghan soldiers are enrolled in both courses and will become NCOs after graduation, the general explained, and the cycle of soldiers going to training will repeat as each group graduates.
With the combination of the training and battlefield promotion, he estimated that by the fall of 2011 the army will be on task with the number of NCOs.
The Afghan army also is working to develop and create more leaders who can go out and teach within the forces. The NATO training mission’s “train the trainer” program recently turned out 113 graduates who can go out into the Afghan army and train other soldiers how to drive army vehicles.
Attrition and retention have been issues for the Afghan army. Recruiting goes down and the attrition rises in the summer, he explained, because Afghanistan is an agricultural society. But because the attrition level has been near the goals of 1.3 percent, Patton said, this summer should be fine.
“We have been banking extra recruits over some very successful months,” he said. “As long as we keep the training seats filled, we we'll be OK."
Patton also stressed that the army is making significant headway with increasing the literacy rate of Afghan soldiers. “It’s paramount that we have literacy in the training,” he said.
Only 14 percent of Afghan recruits are literate, and Patton said he has received commitments from his Afghan counterparts to add literacy to army training.
“Having a literacy program embedded within our basic training and NCO training is really critical in developing soldiers and leaders that can advance in their specialty,” he said.
Patton said his overall focus is on leader development and creating a great momentum in the growth of an army that continues to grow in capability.
“If we stay on target,” he said, “we feel all of our objectives are achievable."